Have you ever wondered why, as a business leader, your work often comes at the expense of your happiness, health or your personal life? The drive and determination that has propelled your success can sometimes lead to a phenomenon known as ‘over-functioning’.
In this blog, I’ll delve into what over-functioning is, how to recognise its signs, and provide practical tips to manage it effectively.
What Is Over-Functioning
Over-functioning refers to the tendency to over-work or over-perform, often at the expense of personal well-being, health or relationships. It stems from a desire to excel, a fear of failure, perfectionism, or the need for external validation.
Many of the qualities of over-functioning have a positive side and are reinforced again and again over time by stakeholders, bosses and organisations. After all, who wouldn’t want an over-functioner leading an organisation or a team?
Over-functioners are the ones who consistently go the extra mile, are helpful, quick to act and assume responsibility. They are reliable, hard-working, and prepared. While these characteristics are indeed valuable, when taken to the extreme they can impact the individual and their quality of life.
The Downside of Over-Functioning
Over-functioners often feel they’re not doing enough, as well as experience guilt for not finding time for activities outside work or for neglecting relationships. They can find it hard to switch off. Fiercely independent, they often avoid asking for help as they see it as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. They also tend to push through no matter what, and so are prone to burnout. Interestingly, over-functioning can also create a dynamic where others around them at work or in their personal lives under-function, thereby perpetuating and even amplifying the over-functioning behaviour.
Over-functioning is often attributed to external pressures as over-functioners are usually in high level, demanding roles. However, it’s essential to recognise that the primary driver of over-functioning is internal – originating from the individual’s conditioning and early experiences in life. Ingrained patterns such as perfectionism, a need for control, a need for achievement or external validation are key drivers. Despite appearing and generally being very confident individuals, these are in fact anxiety or fear-based behaviours – driven by the subconscious desire to feel worthy, good enough, secure or not fail or make a mistake.
Often the individual learned early on in their life to work hard, set high standards and consistently over-achieve. As they progress in their careers, their environment reinforces and validates this behavior through various means, including opportunities, successes, achievements, promotions, bonuses or approval by key stakeholders such as bosses, boards or clients. Over time, over-functioning becomes the norm, making it challenging to change even when there is a genuine desire for more balance, quality time with loved ones, or personal hobbies.
Recognising the Signs of Over-Functioning
- Constant busyness: Over-functioners often over-commit – allowing their diaries to be filled to the brim and leaving little time for relaxation, down-time or personal pursuits.
- Difficulty delegating: Delegating as much as they know they should is often a challenge for over-functioners as they can find it hard to trust others with tasks, fearing that the work will not be completed up to their high standards.
- Neglecting self-care: Over-functioners tend to prioritise work over their physical and mental well-being, often sacrificing sleep, exercise, leisure activities and time with friends or family. Work comes first.
- Perfectionist tendencies: Setting unrealistically high expectations for themselves and others is a common trait of over-functioners, often leading to feelings of frustration, stress or burnout over time.
Tips to Manage Over-Functioning
- Cultivate self-awareness: Self-reflection is the first step towards positive change – you can’t change what you’re not aware of. So start by reflecting on where and when you may be over-functioning and the impact this has on your life and well-being. Pay attention to where you feel resentment, as resentment is often a sign of over-functioning.
- Update your mental scripts: Over-functioning is driven by deeply-held but unhelpful beliefs about what you ‘should’ do or how you ‘ought’ to be. Reflect on the stories, scripts, or ‘rules’ that have been driving your behaviour. Which ones are no longer beneficial for you or accurate? What needs updating?
- Prioritise and delegate: Identify tasks that truly require your expertise, and delegate others to capable team members. Effective delegation empowers others and allows you to focus on strategic, high-impact and value-add initiatives. If you lack the right people to delegate to, make it a priority to get the necessary resources or invest in training and empowering your existing team.
- Embrace imperfection: Keep in mind the idea that ‘Excellence is a value, but perfectionism is an insecurity’. Or the phrase I recently heard, ‘Perfectionism is fear in a fur coat’. Most tasks don’t require perfection. When you strive for perfection with things that really don’t need to be perfect, you end up sacrificing something else – usually your health, your relationships or your own needs.
- Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Schedule regular, dedicated time for relaxation, hobbies, and quality time with loved ones, rather than relying on whatever time is left over after work. This is not only good for your own happiness and wellbeing, it also enhances your creativity and clarity, allowing you to maximise the impact you have at work.
- Seek support: Be proactive about developing, investing in and maintaining a network of trusted friends, colleagues, mentors, or coaches who can be a source of support, challenge and perspective. Remember, nobody achieves success alone. We all need support, as well as people to bring a different view and to challenge our beliefs and assumptions.
- Practice self-care: Prioritise self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies that bring you joy and fulfilment. Taking care of yourself enhances not only your well-being but also your effectiveness in all areas of your life.
Prioritising time for and enjoying other parts of your life is crucial for executives and business leaders who often find themselves trapped in the cycle of over-functioning. By recognising the signs and implementing practical strategies, you can effectively manage this tendency.
Remember, true success lies not only in professional achievements but also in maintaining a healthy balance between work and the other essential parts – and the people! – in your life